Statement on the Governance Role of a Trustee or Board Member

Updated May 2010

PDF version (967 KB)



Regents of The University


Merryl H. Tisch, Chancellor, B.A., M.A., Ed.D. .................................................................    New York
Milton L. Cofield, Vice Chancellor, B.S., M.B.A., Ph.D. .................................................    Rochester
Robert M. Bennett, Chancellor Emeritus, B.A., M.S. ........................................................   Tonawanda
Saul B. Cohen, B.A., M.A., Ph.D............................................................................................ Larchmont
James C. Dawson, A.A., B.A., M.S., Ph.D. ........................................................................... Plattsburgh
Anthony S. Bottar, B.A., J.D. ...............................................................................................    Syracuse
Geraldine D. Chapey, B.A., M.A., Ed.D. ...........................................................................    Belle Harbor
Harry Phillips, 3rd, B.A., M.S.F.S. .......................................................................................    Hartsdale
Joseph E. Bowman, Jr., B.A., M.L.S., M.A., M.Ed., Ed.D..................................................    Albany
James R. Tallon, Jr., B.A., M.A.  ...........................................................................................    Binghamton
Roger Tilles, B.A., J.D............................................................................................................... Great Neck
Karen Brooks Hopkins, B.A., M.F.A...................................................................................    Brooklyn
Charles R. Bendit, B.A. ..........................................................................................................   Manhattan
Betty A. Rosa, B.A., M.S. in Ed., M.S. in Ed., M.Ed., Ed.D..............................................    Bronx
Lester W. Young, Jr., B.S., M.S., Ed. D.................................................................................   Oakland Gardens
Christine D. Cea, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. .....................................................................................   Staten Island
Wade S. Norwood, B.A. .........................................................................................................   Rochester


Commissioner of Education
President of The University of the State of New York
David M. Steiner

Deputy Commissioner for Operations and Management Services

Theresa E. Savo


  The State Education Department does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, religion, creed, disability, marital status, veteran status, national origin, race, gender, genetic predisposition or carrier status, or sexual orientation in its educational programs, services and activities.  Portions of this publication can be made available in a variety of formats, including braille, large print or audio tape, upon request.  Inquiries concerning this policy of nondiscrimination should be directed to the Department’s Office for Diversity, Ethics, and Access, Room 530, Education Building, Albany, NY 12234.


NYSED seal



February 2007

Dear Colleague:

The University of the State of New York (USNY) is a vast multi-billion dollar enterprise encompassing schools, colleges, universities, libraries, museums, public broadcasting and other educational and cultural institutions incorporated by the Board of Regents or the New York State Legislature. This enterprise has one common characteristic among almost all of its components. Each institution is governed by a board of individuals who willingly volunteer their services.

This Statement on the Governance Role of a Trustee or Board Member is provided by the Board of Regents to assist trustees/board members in exercising their responsibilities. The Statement has been updated since it was originally issued in November of 2001. The most significant change is an enhanced discussion of conflict of interest. Other topics have also been updated including internal controls, the definition of proprietary schools, and best practices for boards to follow. Additional links to websites have been added, as well as information on methods to report instances of fraud, waste, and abuse.

The Statement provides certain fundamental information regarding the stewardship role that members fulfill. The Regents recognize that USNY institutions vary greatly in the mission, size, form, and structure of their boards. This document provides guidance and information to assist all trustees/board members in the performance of their responsibilities. From the small historical society to the multi-million dollar college, university or school district, each board member has a fiduciary responsibility for the institution he/she governs.

We urge you to share this document with your board colleagues, become familiar with its contents, and integrate its provisions into your institution’s governance process, e.g., included in orientation materials for new board members or in the institution’s handbook, where one exists. It can also be accessed at the following web site: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/. If you have questions or comments regarding the Statement, please refer to Appendix E for offices to contact in the State Education Department.

On behalf of the Board of Regents and the State Education Department, we thank you for your contributions as a trustee/board member. You are performing a much-needed and valuable service to your institution and the community it serves. Sincerely,


Robert M. Bennett

Chancellor, Board of Regents

 Richard P. Mills

Commissioner of Education and President of The University of the State of New York



Board of Regents

The University of the State of New York

The Board of Regents has authority over all elementary, secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, both public and private, libraries, museums, historical societies and other educational institutions chartered by the Regents or the Legislature and admitted to the membership of the University of the State of New York (USNY) by the Regents.

Various provisions of the Education Law, Not-For-Profit Corporation Law and General Municipal Law impose legal duties, fiduciary responsibilities and fiscal requirements upon USNY institutions and the trustees/board members who run them.  As a trustee or board member, it is imperative that you understand and comply with applicable requirements.  Non-compliance can result in the Regents’ revocation of an institution’s charter, the removal of trustees/board members from office, or other appropriate remedies under law.

What is the purpose of the institution?

As a trustee/board member, you should understand the purpose and mission of your institution, which is defined by its charter, certificate of incorporation laws or by legislation. USNY institutions encompass a wide array of education purposes. In the case of organizations incorporated or chartered by the Board of Regents, you should obtain a copy of the Regents-issued charter or certificate of incorporation and the institution’s by-laws. Institutions chartered or incorporated by the Board of Regents are treated as not-for-profit entities. You should familiarize yourself with the institution’s corporate status, powers, privileges, and duties, which are defined by its charter or certificate of incorporation. Independent colleges and universities derive their corporate powers from the Board of Regents as do certain non-degree granting institutions. Libraries, museums, historical societies, public television and/or radio stations also derive their corporate powers from the Board of Regents. All of these institutions are governed by a board of trustees which is legally responsible for assuring that the institution fulfills the distinctive purposes for which it was established.

On the other hand, the State University of New York, its four university centers and various colleges of arts and sciences, technical colleges, medical centers, and community colleges derive their authorities from Education Law, as does the City University of New York, all of which are part of the University of the State of New York (USNY) enterprise. A board of trustees governs and provides oversight for each.

Proprietary (for profit) colleges are incorporated under the provisions of the Business Corporation Law with the Department of State and are authorized by the Board of Regents to award degrees. Any amendment to the corporate purpose of these colleges requires the consent of the Commissioner of Education.  

USNY encompasses school districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), which also obtain their authority from the Education Law and other relevant statutes. As a board member, you need to know whether the school district is considered a common, union free, central, central high, or small or large city school district. There are also “special act” school districts which have been established by the New York State Legislature on the grounds of charitable institutions caring for children and youth. BOCES are voluntary associations of school districts that agree to provide education and business services in a cooperative manner for purposes of economy and efficiency. The New York State School Boards Association publishes a handbook for school board members that provides more detailed information on the role of a school board member.

What is the financial status of the institution?

One of the most important issues you need to monitor is the financial status of your institution and whether its assets are being used for the accomplishment of the institution’s mission. Scandals involving financial mismanagement of USNY institutions have been identified in the past and represent a serious violation of the public trust. As a Trustee or Board member, you should be aware of the institution’s financial status. Among the things you should request and examine are copies of periodic fiscal reports including budget and actual revenue and expenses, year end financial statements, and tax returns where applicable. Talk to executive staff and other board members about the financial condition of the institution. Request to speak to the external auditors if you have specific questions regarding the financial statements.

For what am I responsible?

You should meet with other trustees/board members to discuss their expectations of you. Read the by-laws; inquire about committees; organizational structure; financial responsibility; and conflict of interest policies. Keep in mind that being a trustee/board member requires a commitment of personal time and effort generally with no fiscal remuneration.

What duties do trustees and board members have to fulfill?

Although varied in purpose and mission, USNY institutions are, for the most part, government entities and not-for-profit corporations subject to the Education Law, and other laws governing not-for-profit corporations wherein trustees/board members must fulfill certain duties to the institution and the community they serve. Such duties involve care, loyalty, and obedience.

Duty of Care

A trustee or board member must act in good faith and exercise the degree of diligence, care, and skill that an ordinary prudent individual would use under similar circumstances in a like position. To conform with this standard, trustees and board members should:

Duty of Loyalty/Conflicts of Interest

Trustee/board members owe allegiance to the institution and must act in good faith with the best interest of the institution in mind.  The conduct of a trustee/board member must, at all times, further the institution's goals and not the member's personal or business interests.  Consequently, trustees/board members should not have any personal or business interest that may conflict with their responsibilities to the institution.  A trustee/board member should avoid even the appearance of impropriety when conducting the institution's business.  Acts of self-dealing constitute a breach of fiduciary responsibility that could result in personal liability and removal from the board.

The board of trustees/board of education should have a written conflict of interest policy that clearly sets forth the procedures to be followed in instances where a board member's personal or business interests may be advanced by an action of the board, including a provision that the trustee/board member may not participate in any decision to approve any transaction where such conflicting interests may be advanced. The policy should also include a requirement that each trustee/board member provide full, ongoing disclosure to the institution of any interest the trustee/board member and/or his or her family has in any entity that the board transacts business with.  The policy should be reviewed and discussed with the institution's attorneys and auditors prior to its adoption.

In addition, there are specific provisions concerning conflicts of interest in Article 18 of the General Municipal Law (applicable to school districts, boards of cooperative educational services [BOCES], county vocational education and extension boards and public libraries), and section 715 of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law (applicable to education corporations chartered by the Board of Regents).  General Municipal Law §806 requires the governing body of each school district to adopt a code of ethics, including standards for officers and employees with respect to disclosure of interest in legislation before the governing body, holding of investments in conflict with official duties, private employment in conflict with official duties, future employment and such other standards relating to the conduct of officers and employees as may be deemed advisable. 

A sample conflict of interest policy is available on the Internal Revenue Service website (www.irs.gov ) under Appendix A of the Instructions to IRS Form 1023.

School board members may contact the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) at 1-800-342-3360 or go to the respective NYSSBA websites shown below to access the following sample policies:

2160 School District Officer and Employee Code of Ethics at

9120.1 Conflict of Interest at


Inherent in a trustee’s/board member’s fiduciary duty of loyalty is the responsibility to avoid nepotism in hiring, purchasing and other institutional decisions.  Care must be taken at all times to ensure that family and/or personal relationships do not inappropriately influence a trustee’s/board member’s decision-making.  Any decisions that are based on personal/family influence rather than the best interests of the institution constitute a breach of fiduciary duty and may result in a trustee’s/board member’s removal from the board.  Institutions should adopt and enforce policies prohibiting impermissible nepotism in hiring and other institutional business including provisions for disclosure of such interests and recusal from voting.  In the case of school districts, BOCES, and public libraries such policies must be consistent with the provisions in the General Municipal Law, which permit a trustee/board member to vote on employment contracts for spouses, minor children and dependents, and the Education Law which requires a 2/3 vote of a board of education to employ a teacher who is related to a board member by blood or marriage.  To ensure legal consistency, anti-nepotism policies and provisions should be reviewed and discussed with the institution’s attorneys and auditors prior to adoption.

Duty of Obedience

A trustee/board member has a responsibility to insure that the institution’s resources are dedicated to the fulfillment of its mission. The member also has a duty to ensure that the institution complies with all applicable laws and does not engage in any unauthorized activities.

The NYS Attorney General publishes Right from the Start-Responsibilities of Directors and Officers of Not-for-Profit Corporations, which may be obtained from the following web- site: http://www.ag.ny.gov/publication-order-form The booklet contains more detailed information on the duties of a trustee/board member of a not-for-profit corporation.

What is the difference between provisional and absolute charters?

Corporations formed for the principal purpose of operating a college, university, school conducting some of or the entire grades prekindergarten (including organizations with whom schools contract) through twelve, library, museum, historical society, public television and/or radio station or nursery school are created by the Board of Regents by issuance of an instrument called a charter, which sets forth the powers of the corporation.

The initial incorporation of the educational institution is executed by the issuance of a provisional charter that is valid for a fixed term of one-to-five years. If the Board of Regents is not satisfied that the corporation can qualify for an absolute charter, it may extend the provisional charter for an additional term of years.

The process for the issuance of a certificate of incorporation is the same as that pertaining to a provisional charter. The legal effect of a certificate of incorporation is the same as that of an absolute charter.

If you are a trustee of a chartered institution, you need to be aware of the following:

How do I distinguish between my governance role and that of a supporter or team player for my institution?

There is a fine line between governance and being a supporter of an institution. Members need to avoid meddling in managing daily affairs. Trustees/board members must balance their role as supporters for the institution’s success against their governance role as overseers of the institution’s management to ensure that assets are used properly, laws and regulations are followed, and the public interest is best served. The board needs to support the institution’s management but must also govern by holding the chief executive officer (CEO) accountable for the institution’s operations and service to the public.

In the governance role, trustees/board members should be concerned with protecting the public interest which they serve. Members exercise this role by hiring a CEO to manage the operation of the institution and evaluating his/her overall performance in providing services to the public.

In a supportive role, board members assist by fund-raising, liaison, and networking with other community leaders, and providing expertise in specialty areas such as law, planning, accounting, and overall corporate management.

What if I lack knowledge or experience in fiscal governance?

One of the most important responsibilities of a trustee or board member is to ensure that financial resources are being used efficiently and effectively toward meeting the institution’s goals, in compliance with applicable law and regulation, and that its assets are properly safeguarded. The area of fiscal governance is one in which board members may feel the least qualified and rely entirely on the CEO for guidance.

Trustees/board members should be cautious about relying completely on the guidance and judgment of the institution’s CEO and management. Members have ultimate responsibility for governance of the institution’s resources and their primary role of protecting the public interest. In monitoring the institution’s budget, board members should ask questions about the assumptions made in preparing the budget. What types of data are used to prepare the budget? How were estimates developed for such expenditures as payroll, supplies and materials, travel and conferences, capital outlays, etc.? Are accounting and/or management processes adequate to ensure accurate and reliable data? What will be accomplished by passing this budget? How will outcomes be measured, evaluated and reported? How will the board hold the CEO accountable for budget outcomes? How are variances from expectations handled?

Trustees/board members should also ask questions about the institutional year end financial statements. Inquire as to what they mean; what is the fiscal condition of the entity? If the auditors’ issued a management letter, request to review the letter.

Similar questions may be raised about other areas, such as the institution’s system of financial controls, processes employed to comply with applicable laws and regulations, accountability with performance results, etc.  Board members should be aware of an institution’s internal control system. The existence of adequate systems of internal controls is also critical for the protection and oversight of the institution’s assets. Internal controls are systems to protect the assets of an organization, create reliable financial reporting, promote compliance with laws and regulations, and achieve effective and efficient operations.

The NYS Attorney General publishes Internal Controls and Financial Accountability for Not-for-Profit Boards which may be obtained from the following website address: The document contains more detailed information on evaluating internal control systems.

What if the institution needs more expertise with fiscal matters?

When matters of fiscal governance become very technical and require greater expertise in assessing the fiscal condition of the institution or its long-term well-being, a board should seek the advice of experts. One mechanism for giving emphasis to the responsibility of fiscal governance is to create an audit committee composed of board members who have expertise in dealing with fiscal affairs.

An audit committee is organized pursuant to a charge or mission approved by the board. It should be established in the institution’s charter, certificate of incorporation or by-laws. 

These are just some of the many activities that an audit committee can pursue to assist a board in its role of fiscal governance. (Appendix D) provides links to web sites that contain more information on audit committees and other issues relevant to the duties and responsibilities of trustees and board members.

Where can I get additional help?

There are many sources available to trustees and board members needing further information and guidance on their role. Members are encouraged to seek additional guidance, evaluate the need for additional training, and contact the NYS Education Department (SED) for guidance. The offices and contact information for SED are illustrated in (Appendix E).

The procedures for the creation of education corporations by the Regents, and other related matters, are outlined in the pamphlet entitled “Education Corporations–Law Pamphlet 9.” This pamphlet is available from the NYS Education Department Office of Counsel, and is available on the SED website: (http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/).

Members are strongly encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney in matters involving the interpretation of laws and regulations pertaining to the institution’s operations. The information contained in this document is not a substitute for the guidance provided by legal counsel.

The appendices contain additional information that may be helpful in fulfilling your role as a trustee or board member. Their content is listed below.

Topic Appendix
Top Ten Warning Signs for Boards A
Best Practices for Boards to Follow B
Select Regulations of the Commissioner of Education Applicable to Chartered  Institutions C
Links to Websites D
Contact Offices in SED by Type of Institution E
Report Waste, Fraud, and Abuse F



Appendix A

The University of the State of New York | The State Education Department

Top Ten Warning Signs for Boards

  1. Lack of available documentation on the organization’s by-laws, charter, mission statement, organization chart, and prior year financial statements.
  2. Lack of independent attitude or excessive conflict among trustees/board members.
  3. Infrequent board meetings. Absence of board minutes.
  4. Poor board attendance at meetings.
  5. Lack of access to key, fiscal, budget, program, and operations information.
  6. Lack of access to the chief financial officer.
  7. Existence of conflict of interest relationships or less than arm’s length transactions between the institution’s board members and organizations that conduct business with the institution.
  8. Lack of internal financial controls and written policies and procedures to safeguard, promote, and protect the organization’s funds and other assets. Lack of fidelity bonds.
  9. Lack of involvement in the hiring of key employees.
  10. Failure to file documents with key control agencies such as the NYS Education Department, Internal Revenue Service, and NYS Department of Taxation and Finance.


Appendix B

The University of the State of New York | The State Education Department

Best Practices for Boards to Follow

1. Be informed of the institution’s activities by:

2. Establish an audit and finance committee with responsibility to periodically meet with management and the auditors to consider:

3. Ensure the institution is carrying out its purpose without extravagance or waste and is not engaging in any questionable or illegal activities by:

4. Monitor the financial condition and management practices of the institution by:

5. To help ensure effectiveness, trustees/board members need to ensure boards address the following, consistent with statute:

Note: Reimbursement for expenses in the ordinary course of business does not constitute compensation. Trustees/board members who also serve as officers may receive compensation in their role as an officer (e.g., treasurer, secretary). In addition, some school districts are allowed under the law to compensate their Board Members.


Appendix C

The University of the State of New York | The State Education Department

Select Rules of the Board of Regents and Regulations of the Commissioner of Education Applicable to Chartered Institutions

Elementary and Secondary Schools Part 100 and Sections 170.2, 170.3, and 170.12 of the Commissioner’s Regulations
Nursery Schools and Kindergartens Part 125 of the Commissioner's Regulations
Prekindergarten Programs Part 151 of the Commissioner’s Regulations
 Libraries and Library Systems Part 90 of the Commissioner's Regulations
Historical Societies without Collections and Cultural Agencies Section 3.30 of the Rules of the Board of Regents and Section 52.22 of the Commissioner's Regulations
Museums and Historical Societies with Collections Section 3.27 of the Rules of the Board of Regents and Section 52.22 of the Commissioner's Regulations
Public Television and/or Radio Stations Part 26 of the Rules of the Board of Regents and Part 179 of the Commissioner's Regulations
Colleges and Universities Parts 50 through 54 of the Commissioner's Regulations


Note: This list is not exhaustive. Moreover, it does not include relevant provisions of the Education law or other laws affecting these institutions.


Appendix D

The University of the State of New York | The State Education Department

Links to Websites

Government Agencies

Internal Revenue Service  http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/

NYS Attorney General  http://www.ag.ny.gov/

NYS Education Department  http://www.nysed.gov/

Office of General Services http://ogs.ny.gov/default.asp

Department of State http://www.dos.ny.gov/

Civil Service http://www.cs.ny.gov/

Taxation & Finance http://www.tax.ny.gov/

NYS Office of the State Comptroller http://www.osc.state.ny.us/

Education Associations

American Association of School Administrators http://www.aasa.org/

Education Commission of the States  http://www.ecs.org/

Educational Research Service http://www.ers.org/

National Association of State Boards of Education  http://www.nasbe.org/

National School Boards Association http://www.nsba.org/

New England School Development Council  http://www.nesdec.org/

New York State School Boards Association  www.nyssba.org

Not-for-Profit Associations

Center for Non-Profit Corporations http://www.njnonprofits.org/

Guidestar (IRS Form 990 database)  http://www.guidestar.org/    

Internet Nonprofit Center  http://www.nonprofit-info.org/                     

Law about Nonprofit Organizations  http://www.law.cornell.edu/

National Center for Nonprofit Boards  http://www.ncnb.org/

Nonprofit Evaluation Tools http://www.innonet.org/

Nonprofit Resource Center  http://www.nprcenter.org/

Nonprofit Risk Management Center http://www.nonprofitrisk.org/

Urban Institute – Center on Nonprofits http://www.urban.org/

Museums/Art Associations

American Association for State and Local History (AASLH)  http://www.aaslh.org/

American Association of Museums (AAM)  http://www.aam-us.org/

Museum Association of New York (MANY)   http://www.manyonline.org/

New York State Council on the Arts,  Museum Program (NYSCA)   http://www.nysca.org/

New York State Museum Chartering  www.nysm.nysed.gov/charter

The International Council of Museums (ICOM)   http://www.icom.org/

Library Associations

American Library Association’s Association for Library Trustees and Advocates www.ala.org

New York Library Association http://www.nyla.org/

New York State Association of Library Boards  http://www.librarytrustees.org/

New York State Library www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev

DISCLAIMER: These sites are provided for the user’s convenience. The State Education Department (SED) does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness or completeness of web sites not maintained by SED. Further, the inclusion of such sites on this list is not intended to reflect their importance, nor is it intended to endorse views expressed, or products or services offered, on these outside sites, or the organizations sponsoring the sites.


Appendix E

The University of the State of New York | The State Education Department

Contact Offices in SED by Type of Institution

To obtain further guidance about the governance role of a trustee or board member, you may contact the following addresses, telephone numbers, and web sites for your respective institution.

Institution                                                                  Contact Office
Public schools, Boards of Cooperative Educational Services
School Operations and Management Services
Office of Elementary, Middle, Secondary, and  Continuing Education
Room 874 EBA
Albany, New York 12234
Nonpublic schools
Office for Nonpublic School Services
Room 481 EBA
Albany, New York 12234
Charter Schools
Room 462 EBA
Albany, NY 12234
Museums, historical societies, and other Cultural agencies
NYS Museum
Room 3097 CEC
Albany, New York 12230
Libraries and library systems
Division of Library Development
NYS Library
NYS Education Department
Room 10C50 CEC
Albany, New York 12230                     
Public Television and Radio stations
Office of Educational Television & Public Broadcasting
Room 10A75 CEC
Albany, New York 12230
Public, independent, and propriety colleges and universities, licensed private and registered business schools
Office of Higher Education
NYS Education Department    
89 Washington Avenue
2 M West Wing
Albany, NY 12234
Independent living centers
Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities
One Commerce Plaza
Albany, New York 12234
Psychotherapy Institutes
Executive Secretary to the State Board for Psychology
Office of the Professions
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234
518-474-3817 ext. 150


Appendix F

The University of the State of New York | The State Education Department

Report Fraud, Waste, and Abuse

The New York State Education Department is interested in information pertaining to fraud, waste, abuse, or mismanagement of local, state, or federal education funds (including information on vendors who receive education funds). Both the Board of Regents and the Commissioner of Education take these concerns very seriously.

Individuals who make an allegation are not required to identify themselves; they may remain anonymous. In such cases, the State Education Department will assess the information provided, given the constraints of an anonymous contact. Therefore, persons making a complaint may wish to provide contact information in the event additional questions arise.

Preferred Method:

Fill out electronic complaint form the following address: https://eservices.nysed.gov/oasfraud/

Other Methods:

      New York State Education Department
      The Office of Audit Services (OAS)
      89 Washington Avenue, Room 524 EB
      Albany, NY 12234